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Abe’s defense minister pick sparks concern over relations with South Korea

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Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s choice for the key post of defense minister, Tomomi Inada, is a politician known for her strong nationalistic views.

She was once barred from entering South Korea, and her appointment has sparked concerns over the prospects for further Tokyo-Seoul bilateral defense cooperation.

But it remains unclear how Inada will deal with the defense issues Japan currently faces, which include territorial disputes stretching from the Sea of Japan to the South China Sea and the relocation of a U.S. Marine air base at Futenma to elsewhere in Okinawa Prefecture, which has elicited strong local opposition.

Her view of history could also cause headaches for Washington as it seeks to strengthen trilateral defense cooperation with Tokyo and Seoul to counter Beijing.

Korean media reacted negatively to Inada’s appointment, with Yonhap news agency saying it raised concerns that security cooperation would no longer be easy.

For its part, the Korea Joongang Daily accused Inada of being an extreme right-winger. It noted that last week she tried to make the removal of a “comfort women” statue that stands in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul a prerequisite to Japan releasing ¥1 billion intended to support the surviving Korean comfort women, who were forced to work in military brothels before and during World War II.

Inada is known in Japan and abroad for her strong conservative and nationalistic views, particularly concerning Japan’s wartime past. She is a revisionist who denies aspects of the 1937 Rape of Nanking and supports prime ministerial visits to the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine.

She also lent her name to a 2007 advertisement taken out in the Washington Post claiming no historical document has been found by historians or research organizations that positively demonstrates Korean women were forced against their will into prostitution by the Imperial Japanese Army.

The so-called comfort women, the ad said, were working under a system of licensed prostitution that was commonplace around the world at the time.

In August 2011, Inada was one of three politicians who were denied entry into South Korea after they attempted to visit Takeshima Island, or Dokdo as it is known in South Korea, which is claimed by both countries. A standoff ensued, as the three refused to return to Japan before relenting about nine hours later. The visit increased tensions between the two countries and was a major political headache for the Democratic Party of Japan, which was then in control of the government.

In 2014, Inada once again courted international controversy when a photo surfaced of her and Kazunari Yamada, who identified himself on his blog as the leader of a Japan-based neo-Nazi party. The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center criticized Inada, who disassociated herself from Yamada and his views. She said she only met Yamada once when he served as the photographer for a magazine interview, adding that she didn’t know about his group and had no other relationship with him.

Many of Inada’s inflammatory comments have been about issues related to history, especially Japan’s actions leading up to and during World War II.

She has had less to say about specific defense-related issues. Her 2010 book “Watakushi Wa Nihon Wo Mamoritai” (“I Want To Protect Japan”) was more about promoting a conservative domestic agenda. But she also addressed Futenma’s relocation from a crowded residential area in Ginowan to a less populated area in Nago’s Henoko coastal district, saying the solution was to revise the Constitution to allow for a legal system that would allow Japan to protect itself, especially from aggressive East Asian neighbors.

“If you look objectively at the situation in countries beside Japan, the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan are by no means peaceful. To say dreamy things like ‘let’s make the East China Sea a sea of friendship’ just puts Japan in more danger,” Inada wrote.